I recently sat in a training meeting where we were discussing the role of risk in childhood. It’s kept me thinking ever since. Where do we draw the line between healthy risk and serious danger?
I’ve often thought the line is where permanent damage can be done. So, for example, I’ll stand back when my child risks a skinned knee during a small boulder climb, but I’m standing guard when they want to play in the front yard near a busy street.
That sat alright with me for a while, but the more I think of it, we really don’t know what can cause permanent damage. Tragic, fluke accidents happen every day. A simple act of running and falling on cement can cause brain injury. Common snacks can cause choking. They’re the stories that keep parents up at night. The unexpected dangers that we can’t seem to calculate.
We can’t always measure and manage risk using simple logic. I think that’s part of what causes us to go overboard from time to time. We just don’t want to take any chances. But they’re all around us anyway.
Not too long ago I wrote a piece for a friend at New Latina, Is There Danger in Play or More in its Absence? One of the most interesting pieces of information I found in the research for that article was the fact that children today are increasing in anxiety (as well as other forms of psychopathology) and it seems to coincide with a decrease in play, and specifically risky play. According to psychologists, risky play essentially provides therapy for anxiety. Therefore, removing risky play allows anxiety to grow.
In an effort to protect our children, we may be causing them harm.
So how do we find the balance? How do we protect these precious children entrusted to our care, but still allow them the risk necessary to build competence, to grow in confidence, and to keep anxiety at bay?
While pondering this, you may want to check out this TED talk, Gever Tulley: 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do. (He also has a book, 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).
What do you think?
***And for more great play-based information, catch the newest issue of Play Grow Learn from Childhood 101’s creator, Christie Burnett. It’s full of useful information and ideas for play. I contributed an article to this issue myself, and I hope you find it as interesting to read as I felt it was to research and write.